Rome - Italian actress Laura Antonelli, known for her erotic roles and love affair with French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, was found dead on Monday at her home near Rome. She was 73.
Antonelli's cleaner found the actress' body in her modest apartment north-west of the Italian capital, with the authorities ruling that the cause of death was a heart attack, according to the Italian press.
"It is with profound sadness that I have learnt of the death of Laura Antonelli. Laura was for me above all an adorable companion, who was exceptionally charming," said Belmondo, 82, a leading name in the French New Wave movement.
"She was also an amazing partner, appreciated by everyone on set. I only want to keep these marvellous memories of her," he said in a written statement to Agence France-Presse.
She was, by her own account, an "ugly, clumsy" teenager before transforming herself into one of Italy's leading and most seductive film actresses. From the mid-1960s and continuing for almost a quarter-century, Antonelli appeared in more than 40 films.
"I confess I never thought of myself as being particularly sexy," she said in 1979, but she said she had no qualms about being considered a sex symbol or appearing nude.
Her marriage to Enrico Piacentini, a publisher, ended in divorce, after which she began a relationship with Belmondo, with whom she starred in several films. She is survived by a brother, Claudio.
Born in Pola, which was then in Istria, Italy, she was best known for her role in the Italian 1973 film Malizia (Malicious), which garnered unexpected success at the box office.
During her career, she worked with big names in Italian cinema such as Luchino Visconti, Dino Risi, Ettore Scola and Luigi Comencini.
In 1991, she faced legal troubles when more than 30g of cocaine was found at her home.
Initially sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for drug dealing, she was eventually acquitted in 2000 by Rome's court of appeals.
Antonelli quit the cinema after her last movie in 1991, Malizia 2000, flopped and she suffered an allergic reaction to plastic surgery.
Towards the end of her life, she faced depression and solitude, turning to religion and living as a recluse at her apartment in Ladispoli.
Agence France-Presse, New York Times